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Exploring the Connection Between Heart Disease and Mental Health

Living with heart disease can take a toll on your mental health. But mental disorders can also have an impact on your heart.

People with mental disorders (including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and even anxiety) are at higher risk for cardiovascular illnesses, studies show. At the same time, people with heart disease appear to have an increased risk for some mental illnesses. This is particularly true with depression. One in five people with coronary artery disease also carry a diagnosis of depression.

Researchers are still trying to untangle the relationship between these different illnesses.

Mental illness being linked to increased cardiac risk could be related to a patient’s poor understanding of heart disease and how to avoid it. These people may not exercise, live a sedentary lifestyle and have a poor diet. They may also be less motivated to take medications, have a higher incidence of smoking and alcohol use and be more hesitant to seek prompt medical care.

On the flipside, people with heart disease experience forces that can take a toll on mental health. With heart disease being the No. 1 cause of death, it’s easy to see why. Fearing for your life or being reminded about the death of a loved one could trigger depression and anxiety. And for people who are prone to mental illness, a cardiovascular disease diagnosis could be the factor that launches an episode.

Living with Heart Disease

Regardless of whether the mental illness comes before or after heart disease, it can have a significant impact on management of heart conditions.

One of the most important aspects of living with heart disease is taking responsibility for your health and following your care plan. Your doctor can offer the best medical advice on the planet, but it won’t help you if you don’t follow it. At the end of the day, you have to be motivated to get better.

Unfortunately, mental illnesses can get in the way of that. Neglecting to take your medications or failing to change your lifestyle and diet will only make your condition worse. It’s also easy to fall into unhealthy lifestyle patterns (drinking, smoking and eating bad food) while chasing the short-term rewards they can deliver to our brains.

Coping Strategies

It’s one thing to be a little sad or depressed if you have been diagnosed with heart disease. Problems arise when your mental state get in the way of properly caring for your heart. So, take an honest look at yourself to assess your mental state. Among the strategies that can help:

  • Find a Hobby: Having a pastime that you enjoy can ease your depression. Possibilities include arts and crafts, gardening and games.
  • Tap into Your Social Network: Get out and spend time with friends and family. Go to lunch or take a walk.
  • Be More Active: Even modest exercise can help you heart and improve your mood. Try biking, swimming, dancing or walking around the neighborhood. Even better, find a friend to join you.
  • Protect Your Sleep: Pick a sleep schedule and stick with it. You may need to limit screen time and caffeine before bedtime to make sure you are getting enough sleep.
  • Talk to Your Doctor: If you are concerned about your mental health, your doctor has questionnaires and screening tools that can screen for depression.
  • Seek Counseling: Therapy sessions can help you deal with stresses and other factors that are contributing to your depression.

In the end, one of the most important things you can do is get a handle on the mental factors that may be preventing you from taking care of your heart.

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